Nursing children with cancer in Namibia – a labour of love

Categories: Care.

Sister Lusia Hendricks 

My name is Sister Lusia Hendricks, a registered nurse from Windhoek, Namibia. I have been working in paediatric oncology for 20 years now.

The Windhoek Central Hospital, paediatric oncology unit was established in 1988 and is the only unit in Namibia. Most of our patients are in-patients and they are admitted on average for more than 9 months, if not a year.

Being a nurse for oncology patients is very humbling yet demanding. We interact with the patients regularly, so we grow very fond of them. We develop a close relationship with them and their families from the first day we meet them. However, experience has taught me that every patient handles cancer differently. They receive the news differently, their journeys with cancer are totally different and they respond to treatment differently. Some families grow closer in the battle and others families may be left broken.

Some days are overwhelming and other days are rewarding. The rewarding days definitely outweigh the difficult days. It brings me great joy to see some of our old patients becoming teachers, nurses, completing high school, graduating, getting married and starting their families. We rejoice in their happy endings and it gives us lots of courage to carry on.

As an oncology nurse it’s challenging to be objective and to balance each patient’s physical and emotional needs no matter how busy the day is. Nursing never ends in the ward; we continue to offer our services even when patients are discharged. We counsel parents, motivate them; ensure the child’s well-being by involving social workers and generous donors.

Throughout these years, experience has taught me to keep a healthy perspective and not to let my heart get hard because of all I see.

Sister Wilhelmina Matthys 

My name is Sister Wilhelmina Matthys, a highly dedicated and compassionate enrolled nurse. I would like to share my experience as a pediatric oncology nurse at the Windhoek Central Hospital oncology unit (8 West) over the past 25 years.

I met most of our pediatric cancer patients when they were very young, some were babies barely a year. As a parent myself, it was a great privilege for me to nurse them, nurture and teach them well. It is wonderful to see a child grow and develop in front of you. Even more joyful to see them respond well to treatment and get better. It makes me very happy to see some of them grown up, successful and parents now too. They never forget us and neither did we forget them. They often visit us at the unit and still remember our names. It is a blessing.

These children have great influence on my life and it is important for me to take advantage of this. At the oncology unit, I did not only get the opportunity to assist the children with their daily routine but to make them realize that cancer can be beaten and it is not a  death sentence.

Unfortunately, there are those we reach too late but we still manage to make them smile and to put one foot in front of the other, no matter how hard. It is very important to provide emotional support and stability to the cancer children. In my view, 8 West at Windhoek Central Hospital is not only a cancer ward but a safe haven for these children.

Working with children who have cancer has taught me that life is worth living and we should make the most of every day.

Sister Lucrecia Mungunda

I am Sister Lucrecia Mungunda, Well known as “Lulu” by the staff and the children, I am an enrolled nurse, working for 8 months now at 8 West, Windhoek Central Hospital. I started working in paediatric oncology straight after graduating from nursing school. 

Children are a blessing from above and no child is a burden, regardless the circumstances. Children never asked to be sick nor understand being sick.

At the paediatric cancer ward we receive children from all over the country, from different regions and ethnic groups. The children stay in hospital for a long period without going home – some for 6 months, others longer depending on the treatment protocol. One gets emotionally attached to them and grows very fond of them.

These kids are special in the sense of them having a low immunity but they are also just like any other normal child. They are very naughty and very active when they are well. They go through the normal milestones as any other child, unless they are physically incapacitated by the sickness. These kids become one, they learn to speak the same language, share the same clothes, play together and become one big family. They care a lot for one another.

There are days that are overwhelming, especially when the children get very sick, bedridden and some don’t make it. Other days are very rewarding too; we celebrate when children get discharged to go home. It is very hard for children to be on chemotherapy, week after week for months to come. It is heart breaking to see some children coming back to the unit because they have relapsed. It is challenging working with cancer children, it takes hard work, dedication, compassion and teamwork to pull through. We have a good team and we support each other, so it makes it easier.

Unfortunately, we live our lives taking things for granted. But when we come in contact with the misfortune of having a sick child, who could die any day, one starts to appreciate life in a different way. Life is worth living and we should make the most of it.

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